Fear of the Unknown and Healthcare’s Hush Around HAI

Note: Article first published as Healthcare Itself Is One of the Top Ten Causes of Death on Blogcritics.

Ever heard of HAI or Health-Associated Infections? They are a top ten cause of death in the U.S. and are a result of your interaction with the healthcare system that treats each of us. If that sounds backwards, it is.

In the U.S., Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAI) are a top ten cause of death and more than 2 million people are infected each year. In 2002 alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 98,987 people died from HAI, infections they contracted as a result of receiving healthcare.

At any point in time, more than 1.4 million people around the globe are suffering from infections acquired in hospitals according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Countries with less sophisticated healthcare can have infection rates up to 20 times higher than the U.S.

While the impact on life and loved ones is huge, the financial toll is also staggering. An estimated $6.7 billion impact to U.S. healthcare agencies is tied to HAIs. This is due to HAI often leading to longer hospital stays, readmission, and other treatment that adds significantly to the cost of care per patient.

With the age of antibiotics coming to a close, the practical aspects of keeping infection rates low, identifying HAI early and lowing the mortality rate seem to be ripe for a holistic redesign. Insurance companies, healthcare networks and government agencies may never completely agree on most things, it is hard to disagree with the numbers and the facts.

What Doctors and Companies Can Do
Some companies, like Kimberly-Clark, are taking steps to partner with doctors and hospitals nationwide to fight HAI. Please encourage anyone working in healthcare, from private practices to hospital staff, to visit the HAI Watch site at haiwatch.com to learn more about HAI. They will be able to get the latest research, join other professionals fighting HAI, and sign up for continuing education. These education programs, along with a “Not On My Watch” campaign, are helping to raise awareness and train healthcare providers on best practices, guidelines and available research around HAI.

As simple as education sounds, busy doctors and nurses on the front lines of delivering care can find it difficult to find the time to take advantage of scheduled programs within their hospitals. With all the focus on the economy and keeping their businesses healthy, even your primary care physician may not have all the latest information and a plan their team is using to keep you safe from HAI when you visit.

What You Can Do
One very basic thing you can do to protect yourself, friends and family is make sure they all know to wash their hands and make anyone else coming into contact with someone who is ill does the same. For some, this means may need to talk to doctors, nurses or other people treating you to make sure they wash their hands. Sounds basic, but this simple step is frequently overlooked even though it significantly cuts infection rates.

According to the CDC, keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs. It is best to wash your hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds. As for alcohol-based hand sanitizers, while they work fast and significantly reduce the number of many types of germs on the skin, they will not kill all germs.

Take a minute to talk about HAI with your friends and family, visit HAI Watch and ask your doctors and nurses what they do to prevent infection in their practice.

Many question, will this be enough? Is there a more holistic way to change behaviors while minimizing the impact to doctors and nurses workload? How are our health insurance companies helping to address HAIs?

Read our follow-up article The Human Experience and Cost of Healthcare-Associated Infections to get tips from people who have been through HAIs.